Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Mighty Aphrodite, v. I
Valentine's Day seems overwhelmingly to be associated with Cupid these days. The little putto is frequently seen brandishing his bow and full quiver on our greeting cards and holiday decor. Oddly enough, far less is made of his mother, though most people could probably answer when queried, that the goddess of love is Venus (from whom we get the etymological progeny venereal, venerate, Venice, venison, venial, and siblings, wean, wont, winsome, wish), or Aphrodite.
"This charming Virgin [...] was the ancient pagan Sea-goddess Marian [...] A familiar disguise of this same Marian is the merry-maid, as 'mermaid' was once written. The conventional figure of the mermaid--a beautiful woman with a round mirror, a golden comb and a fish-tail--expresses 'The Love-goddess rises from the Sea'. — Robert Graves
from The White Goddess
It is no accident that the Mother Love Goddess should come from the saline ocean so like the contents of her own impregnated womb (mer (sea), mère (mother), mari (wife), marriage, maritime, and the biblical Mary are intimately related), from which issues Cupid/Eros/Amor, Love.
Why do we choose to represent this holiday of the union of love with an infantile Love-God, while ignoring him in his more mature stages, and the grown woman, the Goddess? One might speculate it reflects how our cultural consciousness relates to matters of the heart. It's not surprising that after throwing out many of the traditional conventions of marriage and gender roles, that our struggles to redefine rightful relationships are reflected in a certain symbolic lack of maturity. Cupid is an often errant prankster (depicted as chided by his mother in the black and white above), and big-league shit-stirrer.
Certainly Cupid offers us a much more complicated and grown up mythology to comtemplate:
Cupid and Psyche
Cupid grew to become Eros/Amor, inflamed with lust, he found no rest until he fell for Psyche ("breath" or "the soul"), a mortal. His mother, Venus/Aphrodite, affronted by Psyche's reknown, as she was now preferred to the goddess by mortal men, appointed Eros/Amor to "punish harshly this girl’s arrogant beauty... See that the girl is seized with consuming passion for the lowest possible specimen of humanity." (Apuleius, The Golden Ass) But as will happen in myths, where turnabout is fair play, Eros/Amor is struck by his own arrow, some say it was a prick on his finger, and becomes smitten with the incomparably beautiful Psyche. He sweeps her away to his palace, then marries her, but admonishes her never to gaze upon him.
As with all similar tales of such females (Eve in the Garden, Pandora and her Box, the girl who unlocks the Secret Garden, Beauty takind the Beast's roses, Persephone eating pomegranate seeds in Hades, Alice down the Rabbit Hole), curious to probe depths, uncover secrets, lift the 'the veil', and learn the truth, she breaks her vow. Eros flees from his bride, and a doubly vengeful Venus/Aphrodite sentences the unfortunate girl to a series of impossible (sometimes described as hard and humiliating) tasks, known as the Labours of Psyche. Completing them with some "magical' assistance, the girl became not only Eros' bride, but immortal and bound to him forever. She is often represented as a butterfly, which is a symbol of the soul.
"Psyche is as fragile as a butterfly. However, without her, lust never becomes love nor are passions put to rest. (Gerard; Roman)
Love is key to the health of the human psyche; no soul flourishes without knowing it in some form. I wonder if there is any language in which there exists no equivalent term for "I love you." If so, its speakers are either the most emotionally bankrupt culture on the planet.
When the gods gave people sex,
they gave us a wonderful thing.
Sex is food:
just as people cannot survive without eating,
hunger for sex can cause people to die.
!Kung (of the Kalahari) saying
There is so much more, but the hour is late, and I'm in desperate need of my beauty sleep.
Sweet dreams, my lovelies.